Firstly, it may seem rather harsh to give this film only three stars, as it is thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining. However, I rate films on a basis of depth. Standing alongside such films as "Beat the Devil" or "My Man Godfrey," two outstanding comedies the archive.org
collection, it simply does not meet the expectations of what film can do.
That being said, there are some interesting things to watch for in this film. The first is that the whole film is a respectful parody of the hard-boiled detective genre. The parody is that our protagonist is neither hard-boiled nor detective, yet clearly comprehends the stereotype far better than the stereotype detective we meet at the beginning.
Indeed, this very fact is what makes the parody plausible--and it is so very rare to find a plausible parody. For in Bob Hope's character, you'll find an interesting character study of a man so inundated with the impressions of pop culture, that he moulds his every utterance to suit the image he wishes to live up to as represented in films and novels. In the protagonist's case, it is a complete idealization of the P.I..
Wherefore the parody ensues, with Hope's obsessive character spewing lines of such artifice, you may wonder how he got away with it. And that is what makes the film impressive in its own right: that Hope does get away with these contrived lines, and only because the character is what he is.
Hope's character never drops this ideal throughout the film, and his own personality is eventually subsumed by the ideal.
That is the limit of depth in the film. Everything else happens, not for the sake of an astonishing, complex plot, but as hooks from which to hang countless jokes, especially one-liners.
The resultant film is highly entertaining. You have to think more than in modern comedies (e.g
. Adam Sandler), but you have to think less than masterpieces like "Beat the Devil," which is likewise a parodical (rather satirical) view of the genre.
However, comedy is supposed to involve less thought. I said the same in my review for "My Man Godfrey." "A Midsummer-Night's Dream" is deceptively simple, though Chesterton called it to greatest of Shakespeare's works.
Nevertheless, this film is no "A Midsummer-Night's Dream," nor even a "My Man Godfrey." I rest my case on three stars. Though I wanted very much to give it more, I can find nothing in it deserving the elevation, with two possible exception: If you truly understand the genre, you might be able to find greater worth in how the parody is carried out; and the sheer art of the one-liner is pushed to the limits in this film. These, however, are merely speculations.
In short, for those who want smart comedy, this is one. For those who want complexity of plot, themes, and characters with it, "My Man Godfrey" is a better bet. For those who want mindless comedy, go find an Adam Sandler film and forget about culture.